PHOTOS WILL BE AT THE END OF THE REVIEW – CLICK THEM FOR A LARGER VIEW
UPDATE: The History of the remake franchise has been updated thanks to some very, very helpful advice from one of DST’s reps! Thanks, Zach!
Back in the ’80s, Mattel made a ton of money with MUSCLE, a mini-figure line made by importing some Japanese toys but not including their names or history. Shortly after, Hasbro did the same thing – Battle Beasts were actually a Transformers spinoff, believe it or not!
Battle Beasts, still fondly remembered (and kind of expensive) today, were little cyborg/armored animal-men, each of whom had movable arms, a tiny (easy to lose) weapon, and a heat-activated sticker that worked as sort of a game. Each Beast belonged to a random faction – Fire beats Wood, Wood beats Water, Water beats Fire. It was great fun, and the toys still look good nowadays, as mini-figures haven’t exactly changed much over the years.
Fast-forward about twenty years later, and Diamond Select managed to trademark the (then-untrademarked) name of “Battle Beasts,” … but not the original likenesses. So they made one cyborg alligator based nominally on the originals, and then nothing else. Fast-forward a few years after that, and Takara started remaking the original Battle Beasts in Japan, with a new dice mechanism instead of the sticker. Not to be outdone, Diamond Select worked in tandem with IDW to produce the Battle Beast concept as something totally divorced from Transformers, and thus release toys as Minimates (kind of like bigger, more-articulated Lego people), but only sort-of Minimates because they want it to be its own multimedia line (with the comic, maybe a cartoon, and who knows what else). They released several convention-exclusive versions of the main Beast, Vorin, and then… nothing. Again.
And finally, in January 2013, the first series of Battle Beasts has been released, now very definitely Minimates. So… has it been worth the wait?
I confess, I used to have a lot of the original Battle Beasts, most of which ended up with ruined stickers, scuffed paint, and missing weapons. But since I moved a little while ago, I can’t seem to find my baggie of leftover Beasts (I know I will eventually), so you’re only going to see one in here for comparison. Sorry.
The first series consists of eight figures – three heroic Beasts (Vorin the Ram, Gruntos the Walrus, Merk the Eagle), three villains (Vachonus the Scorpion, Fenruk the Tarantula, Strictus the Snake), and two humans (FBI Agent Bliss Reynolds and her teen brother Tate Reynolds).
…Wait, what? Humans?
In the new setting, Battle Beasts are no longer cyborgs – now they’re just animal men, apparently on a quest for some sort of mystical artifact-weapon, which could either cause more war, or bring peace to the Beast Planet. Some humans apparently found these artifacts, because Diamond hates us. We’re not in this for dippy Lego people. Minimates humans are cool, but there are hundreds of them on the market, and only six beasts. Hundreds! I don’t care if they’re integral to the new story, they shouldn’t have been in the first wave, when sales are at their most make-or-break. Really, if they’re that crucial, couldn’t they have been delayed just a little bit? Push out as many cool animal dudes as possible in Wave 1, and then stagger the stuff a little? just like every successful toy line ever? Never mind. It’s a nitpick. But it is the first thing I noticed. Okay, on to the review proper.
No complaints about the packaging here. Nice art, good graphics on the back (showing the figures and their names), informative character bios, and a bubble that shows off what you’re getting. It’s pretty typical Minimate fare, but that’s fine. The figures are nestled in their little trays, with some of the bigger accessories relegated to tiny sub-trays, instead. Again, no complaints. Yay!
SCULPT: Fenruk: ****, Vachonus, Vorin, Gruntos: ***1/2, Merk, Strictus: ***, Bliss Reynolds, Tate Reynolds: **
I really have to compliment this line for including so many unique parts, whereas most Minimates reuse as much as they can. It’s pretty refreshing, and gives the Beasts some good texturing and detail.
Okay, as Minimates, Bliss and Tate Reynolds are okay. But as part of the inaugural series of Battle Beasts, their Minimate nature really, really hurts them. They alone lack texture – the other figures are dressed-up enough that they don’t look like big Lego people. But these two goofballs? I don’t know what they are, but they ain’t human! Bliss and Tate’s overcoats help give them a little bit of texture, at least, but… eh. Personal feelings about humans aside, they really don’t match up with the others.
At a glance, Strictus and Merk look all right, but closer examination shows some very soft textures on Strictus and Merk’s faces, and really, really awkward positioning of Merk’s wings, which I will mention more in the accessories section. There is also something unfortunate to be said about their articulation, but that’s another can of worms.
The other four Beasts look pretty good, with minimal Lego-isms. I especially like Fenruk, who look sappropriately Spidery and Manlike without being a Typical Spider-Man (is Marvel gonna publish that?). Vachonus and Vorin do show a little more of their Minimate heritage, as does poor Gruntos, especially around the legs. Vorin’s face also seems a little soft, but that may have to do with the paint more than anything else.
PAINT: Fenruk, Vachonus, Gruntos, Bliss Reynolds, Malcolm Reynolds: *** Merk, Strictus, Vorin: **
Yeah, they’re humans, but Bliss and Tate have typical, clean Minimate paint apps. They’ve also got alternate paint jobs for their shirts, in case you want to remove Bliss’s overcoat or Tate’s “I’m A Hipster” Jacket. Tate is such a Hipster. Screw you, Tate.
Fenruk, Vachonus, and Gruntos exhibit relatively clean paint apps, and the colors are realistic, if a little bland. Every Beast Minimate also has some “furry” paint on his chest piece, though you don’t want to remove the extra chest pieces on any of them – it turns them into bobbleheads! But it’s a nice detail, regardless. Again, this is a section I can’t complain too much about.
Vorin’s color scheme really looks nice and unique, but his facial paint leaves a lot to be desired – and I mean a lot. It’s heavy, gloopy gray that obscures the details of his facial sculpt, and makes the whole guy look pretty cheap. Strictus has the same problem, which likely contributes to his soft-looking sculpt. Merk is technically all right, but he’s bland when he does not need to be bland, and thus more forgettable because of it.
ARTICULATION: Fenruk: ****, Bliss Reynolds, Tate Reynolds: ***1/2, Almost Everybody Else: **, Merk, *1/2, Strictus: *
Minimates have awesome articulation. I don’t own very many, but it’s the same across the board – standard bodies have tons of joints, and variant bodies usually come with a little more movement than expected. It’s nice, and I like it! But now we’ve got problems.
See, these figures have a lot of new pieces, which almost always slip over standard Minimate body parts like costumes (the legs/tails are an exception). This restricts arm articularion in all of the Beasts, sometimes to embarrassing levels. Their heads also lose their tilting ability because that’s nto a head, it’s a hat that slips over a standard blank head. Leg articulation also suffers a lot, depending…
Vorin, Gruntos, and Merk have standard legs. Vorin and Gruntos’s are horribly restricted by their outfits, to the point that you can’t really pose them in anything except knock-kneed and drunk-looking. This is terrible. Vorin and Gruntos also have terribly immobile arms – they can raise their weapons a little, and bend at the elbows, but that’s about all that looks natural.
Merk deserves special mention for his awful, awful arms – his wing pieces are little flat, undetailed arm extensions that do not go well together and restrict movement. They are also at a strange angle, so you can’t pose him extending his wings very well. It’s just a mess.
But the worst is Strictus. See that nice tail of his, with a big, visible seam right where it bends? Sorry, that seam’s not a joint – his tail is about as mobile as a rock. His arms are also hemmed in by his chestpiece, so you can barely move his elbows, and his shoulders are pretty much a waste. Strictus has somehow managed to be less mobile than the original Battle Beasts. Congratulations!
But hey, Fenruk is awesome. His legs are all great, and can position themselves pretty nicely and “realistically,” more or less. His legs are easier to pose than Vachonus’s, at least. Oddly, Vachonus’s tail has no natural-looking poses, because it’s on a simple swivel, and is too close to his body.
The Beasts come with a ton of accessories – between two and four weapons each, and some special items for both humans. Bliss and Tate come with those magical gold gauntlets as alternate hands, and gigantic translucent fire effects to plug into them. Vorin has a huge sword, a scabbard, and a shield, and both Merk and Strictus have weapons that can connect into longer spears. Bliss and Tate also come with alternate arms in case youw ant to change their clothing, Tate’s got a hairpiece so you can remove his hat, and he also comes with a one-shoulder backpack and a skateboard, just to make him more annoying.
And as awesome as this looks on paper, it’s pretty garbagey.
The fire effects are heavy, so if you anchor it to Bliss or Tate’s hands, they will probably fall over unless you really bend them the wrong way. Tate’s skateboard only plugs into hsi foot if you force it hard enough to damage the paint, and the tiny wheels fall off without any provocation. His backpack does not rest naturally on his shoulder no matter what I do, because gravity is a harsh mistress, indeed.
Vorin’s weapons and shield are awesome, as are Gruntos’s, and they get a pass.
Vachonus’s weapons look awkward in his pincers, and mine will keep them in the little slots in his back. Fenruk can’t even hold his, but since they’re tiny and forgettable, it’s okay. Merk and Strictus have those two-part spearsd, but neither figure can hold them naturally. Strictus can’t bring his arms together, and Merk’s wings keep him FROM EVER HOLDING HIS WEAPONS. Merk also comes with odd little tiny throwing knives, and his helmet is removable (but his head has no features underneath it). Most of the weapons don’t even anchor into their little slots on each figure’s back, tilting and falling off with the slightest movement. It’s like they wanted to ruin everything they made, and I am sad.
QUALITY CONTROL: *
Look, every toy company is going to have a few quality control problems. It’s okay, it happens. But these toys are amazing. Each figure (except the humans) has at least one stuck joint, one loose/falling-off joint, or both. Vachonus’s left claw falls off his arm just by gravity, though his right claw is stuck so tightly that I can’t get it to move without breaking it. Both of his arms were stiff enough to warp the plastic when I tried to bend them. And yet, oddly, Fenruk is the worst offender – his legs are so loose that he can’t stand up under his own weight! No matter how I pose him, he sags to the floor and does a face plant after about two hours. One leg even swings freely when I hold him up, with zero friction whatsoever! It really kills this otherwise-cool figure.
And that’s the thing – maybe a stuck joint or two would have been fine, but I mean it when I say that there is something wrong with each and every one. In fact, let’s look at Bliss and Tate again. Tate’s skateboard peg couldn’t fit into his foot-hole without using enough pressure to strip the peg. Bliss can’t get her arms off to swap out her coat, thus making thos earms useless. Their fire effects barely fit on the hands, and tend to just fall off if they aren’t taking the figure down with them. It’s a comedy of errors that makes Mattel look like professionals. Congratulations!
$10 isn’t bad for a two-pack of Minimates, but $10 is pretty bad when the toys all come broken. I’m sorry.
This depresses me. I absolutely love 90% of the toys I review ( look for them on MWCtoys.com – I’ve posted several, and there are four sitting in his guest review pipeline right now), but it’s this 10% that’s just awful. More than awful, it gives me buyer’s remorse. If only the toys worked the way they were supposed to, then I wouldn’t feel a gaping hole where I used to have ten bucks. I can’t pose them for display without the figures taking themselves apart, I can’t play with them like a kid without something going wrong, and I’m not sure if they’re even very good for customizing other Minimates. How could Diamond Select have fallen down so badly? Again, I don’t have many Minimates, but the others I do own seem pretty good. In fact, I can only think of one other stuck joint that I’ve seen on the ones I own, and it’s a minor joint that’s easy to ignore. These guys just can’t do anything. What we’re left with is a line where 1/4 of the figures are unwanted, and the rest are unplayable, broken things that bear no resemblance to their source material. Again, that’s sad.
WHERE TO BUY:
Your local comic shop should have them in stock. If not, just troll the on-line stores until you find something. Though if you want to buy these, heaven help you.
And now, on to the pictures!